by Kathie Hempel, photo by Bernie Lee, June 2020
My middle son died July 5, 2020. It was a mere two weeks before our move back to Canada. He died alone, collapsed by a heart attack in a British Columbia hospital. Bernie was supposed to be coming home to Ontario to be with his family again at Christmas. That did not happen.
I had been awaiting a call saying he was in jail or had died from his 40-year addiction for every one of those years. The heart, it seems, can break many times.
I prayed for Bernie’s healing. It did not happen. He was funny and oh so talented as an artist, musician, and poet. He oozed potential and believed in God, but what he termed “his darkness” continually overtook him.
Still, we were surprised our best laid plans were not to be. He seemed invincible. He was not. Bernie lived his life by self-propulsion, and he died the same way.
How does a mother heal from the death of a child? How does one heal the need to constantly be listening for that call? How do you heal a broken heart?
Luke 18:27 (TPT) tells us: “what is humanly impossible is more than possible with God. For God can do what man cannot.” I have trusted God in this. How can I not? I have too much evidence in my own life that testifies to his goodness. Why God did not heal Bernie is not a question I have asked. Sadly, I, like so many other mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings have learned God does not always say yes. God gave Bernie, who eventually contracted HIV then AIDS and Hep C, a lot more time than he statistically should have had. He repaired his relationship with us all. He comprehended that we loved him. Those were huge blessings.
I once more turned to the source of all strength and healing. As friends took over a move I could not comprehend getting through and poured me into the truck to make the move, so soon after his death, I saw God working to ease my grief interruptus. As we crossed into Canada, I experienced the kindness of strangers, who made the process much easier than it might have been. As we walked into our new apartment prepared by my eldest son, as my youngest travelled to British Columbia to gather his brother’s ashes and beloved dog, I saw the determined, reflective love of God, as we all continued the journey through grief.
My husband, though not Bernie’s father, grieved with us and removed obstacles for me to have the quiet time I needed. He read and studied God’s Word with me and apart from me. Phil did those little acts of service like cooking meals, doing dishes, vacuuming, dusting, and helping with laundry, as I unpacked and settled our new abode.
I had a difficult time shedding a single tear after the initial shock. It felt there was no time. I had to trust God would lead me through this. He did. Christmas was the time I would have been with my son again. As we celebrated the birth of our Lord, I burst into tears knowing his son died too.
When we lose someone we love, we no longer think of those things they did that irritated us. If we allow it, God will bring a flood of memories of the baby we held, the small boy we coached through hockey and school. We remember their laughter and how they made us laugh. God lets us see where he shone through them in their compassion for others and their love of the underdog.
Jesus says to us as he said to the man at the pool to pick up our mats and move on. When we look to Jesus, we know we will heal. We know he will show us the path forward. That he will cast out our demons, when moving forward seems like a bad break. He will sit with us in our grief and weep along side us through our wailing and gnashing of teeth.
If we, like the blind beggar, call out to Jesus, son of David the psalmist, to have pity and mercy: he will. The living God during times of our worse pain wraps our hearts with compassion until we are ready to expose them to the harshness of the world once more.
To be in a time of healing takes time. We need time to slowly live into our new reality. We need time to recognize all he has left us. We begin to come out of the abyss of the broken heart and God creates that time. The Holy Spirit whispers to us in our pain, leading us to our best next steps. He comforts us in the moments we feel another step is impossible and calls us to rest. He shows us his sun/son in the darkest of moments.
Jesus calls to us yet again. “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life for I am your oasis.” (Matt 11: 28 TPT)
Check out Guidelines for a Personal Retreat available now as a download for only $4.99!